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Lab History

The Computer Science Lab began its existence in September/October of 1991 when a MicroVAX 3100 10e was funded for the CS program by what was then the Minnesota State University System (MSUS). This VAX, named BEAVER, was configured with 32MB of RAM, a 665MB hard disk, and ran VMS v5.x. Included in the purchase were six VT 340 terminals, a DEC 300 terminal server, and a CD-ROM drive. Dave Miller, Professor of Computer Science, defined the specifications for the system, installed and configured the hardware and software, and took on task of management of the system.

Prior to this time, the Mathematics and Computer Science Department had a collection of Apple computers, mostly IIEs, which were housed in HS 104. These machines were used extensively in courses with "education" components, but the core CS courses depended on the campus VAX 11/750.


In 1986, the campus was given an AT&T Unix based minicomputer with 24 terminals and 2 line printers. Maintenance costs were paid at the Minnesota State University System (MSUS) level. While it was designated for use within the Computer Science Program, it was managed by Computer Services and housed in Hickory (now Decker) Hall. Lack of management, incompatibility with the campus computer system, and inconvenient access resulted in the system being used minimally within the Computer Science program.

By the early 1990s, MSUS decided it was more cost effective to buy newer systems for each campus than to continue to pay maintenance on the AT&T systems. Because of Dave's extensive expertise in a VAX/VMS environment and its compatibility with the existing campus system, the above mentioned VAX 3100/10e and associated hardware were acquired. This system occupied part of HS 104, sharing the space with the Apples.


During the 1992-93 academic year, the campus funded the purchase of ten 486/33 microcomputers so that a functional lab could be established to support the core of the Computer Science program. These PCs were configured with 8 MB of RAM and 80 MB disks. This was part of the campus purchase of 25 additional, identical machines to augment a collection of 286 and 386 PCs and a variety of Macintoshes to form the new SuperLab located in Deputy Hall.

The Computer Science Lab's ten 486/33 machines joined the six VT 340 terminals and eight of the old AT&T terminals in HS 104, replacing the collection of Apples. Eighteen workstation tables were purchase and additional tables were scrounged from Sattgast Hall to hold the VAX and some of the VT terminals. A DEC Laser printer was purchased to augment the two AT&T line printers, named HotPink1 and HotPink2. These printers were configured on the LAN to provide routine print services. HotPink2 and the Laser were configured as LAT devices connected to the DECServer; HotPink1 was connected directly to BEAVER. Use of different means to connect the printers provided redundancy in the event of failure of a portion of the network.


Student accounts were created so the system could be used to support the Computer Science curriculum. To handle accounts for students and faculty, an expansion box and an additional hard disk were added to BEAVER. By fall of 1994, a two disk volume set had been created for user accounts; by early 1995, a third disk was added to the volume set; and, during the summer of 1998, a separate disk was added for faculty accounts.

While the campus had some early networking capability, both DECnet and IP, August of 1994 saw new class C IP addresses assigned. That fall network connections to the offices of the Computer Science faculty were added. A couple of years later, the campus network was "officially" brought to faculty offices.

The first attempts at clustering also started in the summer of 1994 when, in July, a VAXstation 3100 was loaned to the lab. The whole concept of clustering was very new and while the initial attempts were not too successful, they provided a valuable learning experience. Because of hardware problems with the loaned machine, it was returned in early August.

In September of 1994, a different a VAXstation 3100 M48 was added. Dave's initial experiments with clustering paid off and, after solving a few hardware problems, this machine, named OTTER, joined BEAVER to form the initial cluster to service the lab. OTTER became the Pathworks server, relieving BEAVER of part of its load.

At about this same time, the department was updating computing equipment in faculty offices and Dave Miller opted for a VAXstation 3100 rather than a PC. The machine, named MINK, resided in Dave's office, but it too joined the cluster and provided additional CPU power when needed.

During the fall of 1994, the University purchased another VAX, to be added to the Computer Science Lab cluster, which would become the campus WWW server. A VAXstation 3100 M76 arrived in February of 1995, and was named BSUWEB. BSUWEB continued as the main campus WWW server until the summer of 1997 when Computer Services took over the management and maintenance of the campus WWW presence on other machines. At that time, BSUWEB was renamed CSWWW and became the WWW server for the CS program.

About that same time, the Industrial Tech department had equipment donated that included two VAXstation 2000's, which had been used as DECwindows workstations. It was a joint venture; the Computer Science Lab would add the nodes to the cluster and manage them and IT could use them in their courses as needed. Breaking with the naming scheme previously used (these were different critters than the 3100's after all), the nodes were named LOON and TICK. While they were considerably slower than the VAX 3100's, they were primarily used to route mail and served the lab faithfully for a few years. Late 1994 and early 1995 found Dave very busy upgrading, installing and clustering these VS2000s. The CSLab now had a robust cluster of four VAX 3100s (BEAVER, OTTER, MINK, and BSUWEB) and two VS2000s (LOON and TICK).

During late fall of 1995, an alumnus, working for Mayo Clinic in Rochester, arranged for Mayo to donate two VAXstation 3100's. Based on student suggestions for names, they were called BADGER and WEASEL. Both needed some upgrades, including memory and graphics boards to support DECwindows. By the time the dust settled and Dave had the two machines upgraded, there were enough parts left over that an additional processor box with motherboard was purchased and Dave built FERRET with left over parts. The cluster added three more VAX 3100s that December, bringing the total to nine nodes.


Meanwhile, on the PC front, the 486/33 machines were becoming very dated. In the spring of 1995, 586/100 chips were installed in the existing motherboards. During the summer of 1995, the Pathworks server was updated to 5.0 and the clients to 5.1 so that MS Windows 3.1 could be served to the machines. Over the years, the AT&T terminals had died. An assortment of 286 and 386 PCs were used as dumb terminals for a time and then VT 220's replaced those.


In the fall of 1996, the campus allocated funds to purchase equipment to enhance the server power in the lab. These funds allowed for the purchase of a VAXstation 4000/90A and a VAXstation 4000/90, each with approximately ten times the processor power of the existing BEAVER. The 90A was to become the "new" BEAVER, but because such a switch mid-year would cause major disruption to service, in December, the new machines were temporarily added to the cluster as just two more nodes. The old VAXstation 2000s were finally put to rest and so, for ease of transfer, the VAXstation 4000s took on the previously used names LOON and TICK.


LOON, the 4000/90, was destined to retain its name. TICK, the 4000/90A, was to become BEAVER. During the summer of 1997, the switch was made. TICK became BEAVER, the main server to the cluster, and the "old" BEAVER rejoined the cluster under the name, MARTEN. That same summer, LOON took on the role as server of applications to the PCs via Pathworks. Being a higher-powered VAX, LOON provided faster and more stable connectivity to the PCs. OTTER took over as the mail server, and, as previously noted, BSUWEB became CSWWW. With separate servers for Pathworks, MX, and HTTPD, and with a higher-powered BEAVER, this robust, secure system was provided faster and more reliable service to its users. The only remaining bottleneck was BEAVER's handing of all of the disk service.


The first Alpha, named EAGLE, joined the cluster during the spring of 1998. A fund drive targeted at alumni raised the money to purchase the Alpha, a DEC 2000 Model 300 with 256 MB of RAM. The intention was to make EAGLE the disk server for the cluster, providing much faster access to both faculty and student accounts. To avoid disruptions to service, migrating disk service from BEAVER to EAGLE was done during the summer of 1998. During that same summer, the system was upgraded to OVMS 7.1.

The old AT&T line printers were, by now, wearing out after many years of faithful service. In March of 1998, HotPink2 was replaced with an HP LaserJet 4000 printer. Spring of 1998 also brought upgrades to the PCs. New motherboards with Pentium 200 chips were installed; 32 MB of RAM was installed; and new video boards with 2 MB of RAM were added. Over the course of the seven years these machines had been in service, most of the original monitors had died and been replaced with new ones as well. The only components not replaced or upgraded were the original 80MB hard disks. When machines from the Superlab with 650MB disks were being replaced in early 1999, the CSLab PCs inherited those hard disks and used them to replace the old 80MB ones. Also, in late fall of 1998, Federated Insurance of Owatonna, MN donated twelve PCs to the lab. Those machines with Pentium 133 processors and 650MB disks were configured to join the existing network and replaced the old VT 220 terminals.

In the fall of 1998, a Math/CS alumni and Federated Insurance employee, suggested approaching the Federated Foundation for funds for decent shelving units for the lab to get rid of the old tables. A request was submitted and granted and, during that winter, three 6-foot sections of shelving were built to hold manuals, books, and documentation.


In spring of 1999, another request was submitted to the Federated Foundation for a metal shelving unit to hold the main processors of the cluster. The funds were granted and a metal unit was constructed by the on-campus crew. The unit was configured to allow for use of commercially available shelving. It had room for six of the ten nodes of the cluster, their associated monitors, keyboards, and UPS units, the laser printer, and the VMS manuals.

Installation of the new shelving units required moving the cluster and a major portion of the other equipment in the lab. Hence, the remodeling had to wait for the summer. Working with Jon Quistgaard, VP for Academic Affairs, funds were made available for a fresh coat of paint and installation of carpet since the lab was already being ripped apart to accommodate the new shelving units.

At the same time, the original thinwire network used for the LAN was removed and replaced with twisted pair. New hubs were installed and the VAXen, Alpha, and DEC 300 terminal server were migrated to transceivers to facilitate the use of TP. Unfortunately, during that summer, the network ports on the node CSWWW started to fail. The Education Department's MicroVAX 3100 Model 38 was being discarded and it was acquired and reconfigured to become CSWWW. The last piece of the old AT&T equipment, the printer HotPink1, was also replaced that summer with an HP LaserJet 4000 printer to match HotPink2.

In August of 1999, new task chairs replaced the old plastic stack chairs that had been in use since the lab started. In addition, the two old wooden tables, which had held the VTs and an assortment of PCs over the years, were finally replaced with workstation tables to closely match the rest of the lab. This new furniture arrived in October and was put into service immediately.


In January of 2000, the University funded the purchase of two new loveseat sofas for the lounge area of the lab to replace the very well-worn sofa and chairs on which many students have crashed. That new furniture arrived in mid-March.

Also during 2000, the nature of computing on campus began to change. Computer Service was beginning to provide support for computer labs across campus. In order to ease providing support, Computer Services installed 24 brand new identical PC's in the CS Lab. After a successful trial run with some dual-booting Linux/Windows PC's that started in spring of 1999, the new PC's were installed as dual-boot machines as well. In addition, we installed a Compaq server running Red Hat Linux to serve files and names to both the Linux and Windows users. Computer Services took over responsibility for administering Windows and the Computer Science program was responsible for administering all of the Linux installations.


Computer Services upgraded the PC's during the summers of 2003, 2006, 2007, 2009, and 2011. In 2005, the College of Social and Natural Sciences, along with the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, provided funding for replacing the CS Server. The Compaq ProLiant ML350G4, running Red Hat Enterprise Linux, was installed that summer.


We got a new server. We got new printers, too. Fix this and 2012.


In the spring of 2012 the ProLiant ML350G4 began to show its age and one of the redundant harddrives failed. We made it through the semester without a catastrophe. That summer, rather than buy a new server, Information Technology Services offered the use of a virtual server. The switchover was pulled off quickly and without any major hiccups. In addition, two new printers, one color, were installed in the lab. The workstations in the lab were upgraded again in the Summer of 2012.